"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Friday, January 23, 2015

I Shall Be Near To You, by Erin Lindsay McCabe

     The idea behind this book is an intriguing one.  It's inspired by the women (estimated by some to be between 400 and 750) who disguised themselves as men in order to fight in the American Civil War.

     Newlywed Rosetta Wakefield can't handle staying behind while her husband goes off to war.  She decides to enlist partly to be near him, partly to help earn enough money to buy the farm they've been hoping to start.  While encamped with her husband's regiment, she encounters the usual issues one might expect from a situation like this.  How does a woman hide herself, and how difficult would it be?

     While I think this book is worth the read for any female interested in the Civil War, it falls far short of what it could have been.  The narrative is simplistic, and I just didn't feel the spark from the main characters that the author intends.  There are aspects of the plot that are never really resolved, and the ending is almost eye-rollingly predictable.  I would have loved it had the plot been as refreshing as the idea behind it.

     In hindsight, I think this book works better as a YA read.  I just tend to expect more from adult historical fiction.

     Two out of Five Stars

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Invincible, by Cecily Anne Paterson

     Invincible is the sequel to Invisible, a book  about a partially deaf middle school girl who is trying to find her way in the world after her father's death.  And while I picked up Invisible quite by accident, I was very much looking forward to reading its sequel.

     Invincible picks up where Invisible left off, although I think it does well as a stand-alone book, as well.  I feel that Cecily Paterson really comes into her own as a novelist with this book.  Even more so than its predecessor, Invincible does a fantastic job of relating the journey of a young girl through the murky waters of adolescence.  It is just as meaningful and entertaining as Sarah Dessen's best works.

     In this installment of Jazmine's story, we see more of the self confidence that she started to develop in Invisible.  But this confidence starts to wear ragged around the edges as Jazmine finds herself trapped in a relationship that is slowly turning from slightly controlling into downright abusive.

     The abusive relationship is a theme that I haven't seen explored much in YA fiction, and particularly at the lower levels as this book is.  But I admire the author for tackling it.  So many of our girls - today and in generations past - get trapped in abusive situations because they can't recognize the signs until they're too emotionally attached to leave.  Either that, or they don't know how to stand up for themselves.  We focus so much on this kind of abuse in the adult world, but it's just as much of a problem in adolescent dating.  And it's rare to find a book that touches on it with so much accuracy.

     A girl reading this book is going to follow Jazmine as she goes through the classic issues of not knowing what to do, of hiding the problem from her friends and family, and finally the awareness that she is worth so much more than what her boyfriend makes her feel.  Her growth from helpless victim to a young lady of confidence and bravery is an inspiration that any girl would benefit from reading.  And as with the prequel, there is nothing in Invincible that would give parents pause.

     This is a book that I will give to my daughter, and I encourage any parent to do the same.  It's eye-opening in a non-preachy, entertaining way.  The topic it covers is too prevalent in our society, and I feel this book should be given the attention that it is due.

     Five out of Five Stars


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, by Beatriz Williams

Important Warning That The Book Jacket Doesn't Tell You:  Don't start reading this book on a Monday night of a busy work week.  Save it for a weekend when you'll be able to truly enjoy it.  And make sure you have meals ready to go in your freezer so your family doesn't starve while you're locked in your bedroom devouring this book.

The Premise:  Vivian Schuyler, an aspiring magazine writer in mid 1960s New York, takes delivery of a suitcase that was apparently lost by her aunt in 1914 Zurich.  The only trouble is, while the suitcase has been found, her aunt has been missing since 1914.  Family legend has it that dear Auntie Violet murdered her husband, ran off with her lover, and is either dead or doesn't want to be found.

But Vivian sees the potential career-launching story in this.  She starts delving into the mystery of her aunt's disappearance a la Letters to Juliet, although this story is much more fascinating.  Because Aunt Violet, as it turns out, was disowned by the family for denying her destiny of being a proper tea-pouring, corset-wearing lady.  Instead, she becomes educated enough to be accepted for a position at Oxford and later in Berlin as an atomic scientist.  The woman hobnobs with Einstein and his colleagues, and the research of the author allows us an interesting look at a very small part of this world.

The story alternates chapters between 1960s Vivian and pre-World War I Violet, and each story is just as riveting as the other.  And since two different stories are told in each chapter, this book truly is a page turner.  The lives of both women parallel each other as we learn of their struggles and triumphs.  We see how both women come into their own in the world, and the contrast between the two eras is accented.

The writing is witty and the plot is fast-paced.  In each section, you've got a proper villain and spunky heroines who are each fighting for their own place in their world.  With espionage and romance, to boot.  I was sorry to have to put this book down when I was finished.  I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for good historical fiction about strong women.

Five out of Five Stars